From the Editor
Many poets improve their skills through writing classes and groups; whether with organisations and colleges or with self-organised like-minded people. But what happens when the course or group finishes and you’re poems are ‘ready’ for the world to read. Competition in publishing, as we all know is immense and can be a very dispiriting and lonely experience. Here is how one group of women in the North East of England responded.
Marilyn Longstaff of Vane Women
Vane Women is a women’s collective celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It promotes good writing by organising workshops, mentoring and hosting masterclasses by established writers. It was founded in 1991 to support the development and recognition of women writers in the North East. The writing, publishing and performing collective has come a long way from its beginnings in a women’s writing class at the late lamented Darlington Arts Centre, Vane Terrace.
Vane Women Press was established in 1993, and, at first, published a couple of anthologies. Then in 1998, published its first two pamphlets. It focuses on bringing out debut pamphlets for women who live in the North East of England, giving them a first step into publishing. It supports its writers with mentoring and feedback so that this first pamphlet will be of high quality and will always be a book the writer can be proud of. The collective provides all their work for free to support this aim. Any money generated from performances and book sales goes back into the collective to support mentoring and publishing. We have been particularly keen on working in remote rural areas for some of our projects.
In December 2015, we published Lisa Matthews’ The Eternally Packed Suitcase (this is a full collection, which is rare for us). The poet Jo Colley wrote of it, ‘Adventurous in form, the poems are anchored in the domestic, transformed and eroticised, and at times shifted to the surreal. Women find their way into many of these poems, giving us tantalising glimpses of their imagined lives, like ghosts made flesh.’
We also brought out NORTHbound an anthology of photographs by Pat Maycroft (mainly of the North East) and poems in response from Vane Women and from guest writers who we have published or have run masterclasses for us. ‘It represents the hard graft of image-making, writing and publishing and honours the camaraderie of writers who live in this region. What binds us all is a strong sense of place, of the North, of a landscape both beautiful and harsh. In times of change and erosion, in the spirit of collective voices, we celebrate what endures and refires.’ This anthology celebrates the 25th anniversary of Vane Women.
Although it has published six anthologies, and more recently, two full collections, its main aim has been, and still is, to publish high quality first pamphlets for women who live in the North East.
Spotlight on Majuba Road by Julie Hogg.
Julie had been widely published on the web, and had a chapbook Dark Matter Volume 2, when she sent her work to Vane Women Press. Majuba Road, published in April 2016 and launched at the T*junction International Poetry Festival. It is our 20th publication.
Julie Hogg works as a primary school teacher in Middlesbrough. She has always lived in Redcar. East Cleveland is her homeland. In Majuba Road, the poems journey through the North East landscapes she inhabits; they chart urban and industrial decay, set against the constant ebb and pull of the sea – an edge ‘between lonely and alone’ to which the book keeps returning. The women who people this book know all about hard times. But they are strong survivors; their sense of humour sees them through. Strikingly original, her voice can be lyrical, startling, staccato and also exquisitely tender, urging us to ‘live like this’.
The final poem in the book is also its title. As well as being a heart-stopping poem, it represents the ongoing need for a feminist perspective in this so-called post-feminist era.
I’d reached my destination,
so I continued just a little
bit further, while the sea slid
back and forth and a stationary
black bird of paradise watched
me pass along this hairline
fracture between lonely and
alone, as if the mass of a single
woman was never enough in a
utopia lacking muliebrity, I
trespassed, like a truant who
knew that life was long and
studied afternoon bronzed sky,
surreal thick and thin reeds of
steel, incognito ghosts in the
dunes, understated ochre sand
and soot all drenched in solid
golden modesty through an
apocalyptic internal monologue
of lost horizons into another era
and a cadencing feminine ending.
Majuba Road costs £5 and can be bought from Vane Women Press www.vanewomen.co.uk